Category 13 September 2019

#5 Life in Low-code // Day in the life of a low-code developer with Paul McMonnies

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What’s it like to work with Low-code?


For a start, every day is different! In this episode Louise Wright invites Paul McMonnies to talk about his role. As a Platform Solution Developer, Paul lives and breathes Low-code and is passionate about what it’s helping organisations to achieve. Paul also shares his advice on transitioning from traditional coding to Low-code. Plus the top priorities for Low-coders. Access the Forrester report ‘Understanding Low-code Developers’ referenced in this podcast here.

Louise: Hello Paul!

Paul: Hi Louise, thanks for having me! And hello to our listeners.

Louise: Let’s start with an introduction to you…

Paul: I started (working at Netcall) in May 2015 and my official job title is Platform Solution Developer, which means I build customer solutions on the Create platform – ranging anywhere from having discussions with the client, right through to designing and implementing the solutions.

Louise: What does your typical day look like?

Paul: To be honest, there really isn’t a “typical day.” There is some repetition, where we’ve recently adopted an Agile methodology – which means that we have daily stand up meetings each morning with bullet points about the progress of the project – but the actual work itself varies greatly depending on where you are in the project. As I mentioned, I can be talking to the clients about requirements, planning and designing the solutions, or building and testing the solutions. Every day is different, and that’s definitely a positive for me because a lot of programming can be repetitive. The way things work here means it’s always really varied and it definitely keeps you on your toes!

Louise: I know that feeling. It’s great that there’s so much variety. What’s your background in terms of development? How did you find the transition into low-code?

Paul: I come from quite a traditional development background. I started programming on a Commodore 64 when I was about 8 or 9 back in the 80s and ended up eventually going on to University to do a degree in Computer Science. After that, I went into developing database-backed systems mainly, like Visual Basic and Delphi, for about 20 years! The transition into low-code was a reasonably straightforward one. Although the coder in me wanted to know how all the magic that’s working in the background, I’ve always been a solutions-driven developer, which really lent itself to developing systems using low-code.

Louise: What are the major differences between traditional coding and low-code development?

Paul: I’d say that the basic skill sets are fairly similar – a basic knowledge of how databases work is advantageous. Saying that we have builders here that have come from backgrounds like Project Management or Process Management – with no development experience – that have been able to pick up and understand how to use low-code to produce solutions. It really varies, but low-code just basically gives you a head start.

The best way to describe it is if you liken software development to building things out of Lego! With traditional programming, you have to write all the code to build the actual bricks – the 2x4s, the flat ones, the corners, the pointed roofs bits etc. and in all of the different colours. With low-code, most of those bricks have already been made for you! You only need to think about what you want to build, pick up the bricks and put them together.

The beauty of working here (with Create), where we also develop the solution in-house, is that our core team builds the bricks too. So historically if we (as builders) needed a new shape of Lego brick that wasn’t already in our box, our core team could make it for us. However, the latest versions of Create even gives us the ability to make our own bricks via the new Code Studio, so we really do have the best of everything here.

Louise: That’s interesting. I recently read a Forrester report on ‘Understanding Low-code Developers’ which talks about Application Development and Delivery (AD&D) teams, and the differences between “low-coders” and traditional developers. One of the areas it focused on was the priorities of developers – what would you say your priorities are?

Paul: For me personally it’s always been about delivering that “wow” factor. A solution that absolutely fits customer needs of course, but one that does it while really impressing them at the same time. Both in terms of how it all works, how we have put it together and how we can implement further changes. Low-code really does enable us to deliver that “wow factor”.

Another big factor is the variety of solutions we produce here. In past jobs, I’ve worked for software companies that tend to be focused on a particular sector such as engineering or higher education etc. Which can be a bit “samey.” To extend my earlier Lego analogy a bit further, you can build pretty much anything you like out of Lego – and it’s exactly the same here!

I’ve worked on projects involving the maintenance of manhole covers in South Africa, a companion application for cancer patients, applications to measure staff competency to determine further training needs, fund management applications and I’m currently working on a worker management system to monitor and log the shifts patterns of a workforce over 15,000 people. It’s never dull!

Louise: Absolutely, and interestingly that aligns with the report! The low-coders surveyed had a focus on customer experience and company growth. So you’ve been working with low-code for about 4 years now, if you could contact your former self, what advice would you give “past Paul” about a career in Low-code?

Paul: That’s a tough question really as I’m the sort of person who tends to look forwards rather than back! But I remember that I definitely had a few concerns when I joined, about coming off that “traditional development path.”

Low-code wasn’t really something I’d heard of at the time, so I wasn’t sure about effectively committing my future to it, then potentially needing to go back to the traditional path, having been out of the loop for a while. However, I haven’t regretted it for a minute. The skills involved are absolutely transferable – and we’ve seen low-code go from strength to strength, with more and more big businesses adopting it! So it’s great to be ahead of the curve, and really working on the cutting edge of things.

With previous roles, the focus has always been fairly specialist or industry-specific, but with low-code you never know what your next project is going to entail, so it’s always a new challenge and it’s all about the “art of the possible.” Create provides us builders with absolutely every tool we need in order to make things possible – the platform is constantly evolving and we as builders also have an input into that direction. We’re consulted about what would make our lives easier, and those things are then incorporated into future versions – even in the 4 years that I’ve been here!

You could say [analogy] that the Create platform has evolved from something like a Betamax video player into a surround sound, high-resolution 4k home cinema system – and we’re still pushing things forward even further with every version. It really is an exciting and vibrant place to be, and having that freedom to produce really varied and powerful solutions makes it an enjoyable workplace. I’m very glad that I didn’t let those fears change my decision, and that I threw myself into the world of low-code.

Louise: Thanks Paul – it’s been fascinating to have you on the podcast, so thank you for taking some time out to have a chat!

Paul: It’s been an absolute pleasure – as you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of low-code. It’s been great to have an opportunity to talk about that.